GOP Judge Releases Juveniles After Democratic Sweep: ‘Promise Not To Kill Anyone?’

Man appearing in court
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Harris County Juvenile Court Republican Judge Glenn Devlin lost his bench in the Democratic sweep that was the midterms and decided to lament the re-election campaign loss in a rather surprising way on Wednesday morning.

Almost all the minors that appeared in court in front of him were released, asking only one important question before making his decision: “Promise not to kill anybody?” Houston Chronicle reported that the result was that nearly all of them were released by Devlin.

“He was releasing everybody,” said public defender Steven Halpert, who watched the string of bizarre releases.

“Apparently he was saying that’s what the voters wanted.”

While it may have been a good day to be a juvenile defendant in Harris County, prosecutors were concerned by the apparent lackluster attitude Devlin was displaying towards people who had been charged with everything from low-level misdemeanors to violent crimes.

“We oppose the wholesale release of violent offenders at any age,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement later. “This could endanger the public.”

Seven youths were released in total, four of whom had been facing aggravated robbery charges.

Devlin has declined to comment on his decision to release the defendants.

Devlin’s seat was one of 59 flipped by the Democrats during Tuesday’s midterm elections. Just last month, it was found that he was one of two juvenile court judges in Harris County responsible for approximately every one in five prisoners incarcerated in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department in 2017. The hardline GOP judge has a track record that shows he favors incarcerating youths to other rehabilitation options.

Devlin and Judge John Phillips are both more than happy to send teens to jail, regardless of age, and for far less serious offenses than the third juvenile judge, Mike Schneider. All three judges have now lost their seats to Democrats, and by a minimum of 10 points to boot.

According to Halpert, it’s not unheard of for Devlin to release defendants awaiting trial from lock-up, but a sweep as was seen on Wednesday morning was on a completely different scale of leniency.

“He’s not one of those that never releases a kid charged with an aggravated robbery,” Halpert said. “But nobody has seen this before.”

Of the juveniles who appeared in court on Wednesday morning, Halpert says he saw only one of them detained by Devlin. All of the cases have been reset to January 4, the day after the Democratic replacements will take their seats for the first time.

Many lawmakers came out to criticize Devlin’s bizarre behavior, including Elizabeth Henneke of the Lone Star Justice Alliance, who called his decision “shocking and disappointing,” and Alex Bunin, the county’s chief public defender, who called the sudden change of heart “simply baffling.”

Jay Jenkins, a policy attorney with the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, commented that the erratic behavior only reinforces the decision made by voters on Tuesday.

“The voters of Harris County clearly wanted a change in the juvenile courts and Judge Devlin today is showing us why the voters may have wanted change. We’re hoping now the juvenile courts can be a much fairer and more equitable place.”